Camouflaging Yourself AND Equipment


Submitted by Eric Daniel

The Army is conducting yet another review of the camouflage pattern of its combat uniforms.  This makes it what, the third or fourth such review on the pattern du jour?  What I find interesting though, is not so much how much attention is being paid to the debate around the camouflage pattern, and whether or not we need one “one pattern works nowhere” uniform, or several regional/seasonal uniforms to maximize local effectiveness, but how little attention we are paying to camouflaging everything else but the uniform.

One of the first things that leaps out at you about the ACU pattern is its lack of black.  “Black is not a naturally occurring color” the Army says, and its use on the battlefield defeats the effectiveness of camouflage. Yet we’re all packing at least one piece of black equipment; our weapons.  As a scout looking for bad guys, one of the things you look for is black angular objects, which are universally man made, and on the battlefield usually mean weapons. 

So why do we still have black weapons?

I’m not talking about sending all our guns back to the factory to get some sort of high speed “realtree” pattern retro added, but rather just addressing the issue at the unit level and paint them some color other than black.  I searched and searched TRADOCs website looking for regulations regarding camouflaging equipment, and other than a circular detailing how to apply CARC paint and what pattern to use on the woodland camouflage pattern on tactical vehicles (which, by the way, still includes the color black), the only guidance I could get on the subject was to ensure that what ever camouflage you use does not interfere or degrade the performance of the equipment, which seems a no brainer to me.

So, having not found anything that expressly forbids painting weapons, I decided to do the foolish yet administratively correct thing and broach the subject with my food chain.

“No” was the answer I got.  The rational behind the decision was varied. 

“Let joes paint their weapons, and they’ll be tagging them with gang signs.”  Ok, a valid concern, so to mitigate that you limit their color options to, say, tan, and you have their team leader supervise them.  Better yet, let the team leader do all the painting. 

“They’ll over-paint them, and gum up the weapon.”  Again, another valid concern, and again, one that can be mitigated by the judicious application of NCO leadership and some common sense when painting.  This isn’t painting the Sistine chapel; it’s breaking up the pattern of a black piece of gear, and a little bit of tan paint will go a long, long way. Want to protect the bolt?  Take it out.  Want to protect your optics?  Cover the lenses with a layer of grease.  There are a multitude of ways to get the job done without fouling the weapon (I know because I’ve seen units do it.) 

“Squadron won’t like it, because we won’t be uniform with the rest of the squadron.”

Bingo, here we go, the real reason why we’ll never do it; uniformity.  Heaven forbid we have a Squadron formation some year and one troop shows up with brown weapons.  Never mind that camouflaging yourself and equipment is an essential field skill that could actually save your life some day, we’d much rather look identical for the next change of command ceremony.  It saddens me that on the one hand we tout ourselves as the most powerful and sophisticated army in the world, but at the same time we lack the intestinal fortitude to make a simple decision to camouflage our equipment for strictly cosmetic reasons.

  • Brennan275

    You hit the nail on the head with that post. Dress right dress belongs in Basic Training not in an operational unit.

  • Jason

    Black is not a naturally occurring color and defeats the effectiveness of camo? Tell that to Lynx Rufus. If you can find him.

  • Mike Halvorsen

    These sound like the descendents of the same idiots that told me that “If you can be seen, you can be killed” back in the 1970’s…then told me to wear mirror-shined jump boots to the field…in a Scout Platoon…yeah…right…

  • Jason, you are absolutly correct. Youll notice that I said, The Army says… As you pointed out, that bobcat is damned hard to find, and they most assuredly do occur in nature (come to think of it, Scout Cat is black too, maybe I should let the Army study him…)

  • Agree Mike. It seems that the disconnect between function and form in the Army just gets wider every year. I can remember doing field training and getting stuck in some absolutely deplorable terrain for no other reason than thats where the S-3 shop put out AA on the map. Never mind that the terrain didnt support the battalions mission, changing locations was out of the question because the position had already been drawn on the map and the graphics distributed, and the S-3 wasnt about to make a correction (talk about the pen being mightier than the sword…)

  • Kilroy

    It’s a fallacy that black isn’t found in nature. Technically no, but your eye sees black everywhere in nature. Next time you’re out somewhere, squint (so you’re not focusing on one thing) and notice all the black shadows. Print out a nature scene and notice how much of the paper is black or nearly so. Does black belong in camouflage? No. The same conditions that let you perceive black on things that aren’t actually black will make a good camouflage look like it has black in it.

  • Lew

    Swedish AK5s have always been painted dark green in order to blend in with forestry, during wintertime most units break this up with white tape or stickers to better blend in with the snow.

    Black can also be used in camoflage where it simulates shaded areas and thus breaks up the siluette. In wooded areas this works quite well.

  • John

    I have to wonder if the military has any comeon since?
    I would think they could see that the color black stands out like a black sheep in a herd of white sheep.Camouflage saves lifes its been proven, exp: scout snipers. From what i know there gun tends to be camouflaged to.

  • Hugh Davis

    How about this — issue one uniform for all the rear area/support types that is OD green with coyote brown webbing for those times they need to carry additional pens and paper.

    Only issue true camoflauge gear to the trigger pullers and issue three sets — woodland/jungle (green based aka OD or german field greys), desert/scrublands (brown based aka Coyote brown), and winter/urban (whites and greys).

    MC, army, navy, air force, all the same, all OD for rear echelon. Good enough for the ocaissional romp in the woods.

  • Ewan

    Nature is the perfecter of all things, seeing its had a lot longer to solve the problem of staying concealed.
    Here are a few animals of the top of my head that use black in there “camouflage’: Tiger, zebra, cheetah.
    Perhaps we should be like the wasp and give a warning to our enemies to keep away ;) nothing like wearing a bright black and yellow uniforms.

  • Brandon

    In paintball(if you play scenario) way back when I started, I owned no camo at all and a veteran at the game and former marine scout told me to just wear blacks or dark blues and if possible dark greens for the woods in summer if I didn’t have proper concealment. Reason is the black kind of fades in with shadows, I can see how how it can be detrimental in mostly light colored/sparce cover environment, but I agree that it’s a fallacy that black doesn’t occur in nature/work at all.

  • M. Hughes

    Why not use camo tape similar to what turkey hunters use to wrap their shotguns. Even if you don’t get 100% coverage, you can break up the outline. Then pull the tape off for cleaning or garrison duty.
    One example (this one even comes in an army digital pattern) :

  • leo

    this is once again a great reason to swap the M4’s with FN SCAR’s
    because they come in dessert tan

    • muddart

      The M4 could also come in tan, or tartan for that matter, if the ARMY ORDERED them that way. The point is not “could, should, might be” in the future, it’s troops in need, NOW. In the field, they have Rattle cans and systemic permission but not Unit level in all cases. The SCAR is irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

      • muddart

        Oops! Zombie thread!


  • Bruce Lancaster

    Uniformity vs. hypothetical stupidity vs. actual need for camo: Seems like most could be mostly satified by an advancement of the tape/sticker general idea. Manufacture and issue die cut sets of stickers for specific waepons…die cut to cover specific panels of the device, notchy edges reaching across the black gaps toward the next sticker. Each sticker is naturally keyed into the official right place by obvious things like clearance notches and holes as well as general shape.
    Made to fit without taping the bolt shut, glue made to peel off without leaving the weapon sticky. Quick and easy changeover from field to garrison or from bush to desert. They could even issue simple ones for local decoration and special shiny ones with visibility orange bullseyes for use in deeply professional surroundings.

  • Id thought about the tape, but Ive a number of concerns about using it. First, theres the nature of the tape itself. Unlike paint (or powder coating or similar process) which wont degrade the functionality of the weapon, the tape will. If I apply the tape to the fore grip of my M4, I cover up the rails, which means I cant hang anything on it. If I put my optics on first, then wrap the weapon in tape, Im also covering up the devices, which makes it a pain in the ass to remove them or to adjust them. Secondly, between putting the tape on and taking it off, Im concerned about adhesive residue building up on the contact surfaces, which will serve as a filth magnet, not to mention being a pain to clean off. Thirdly, Id be concerned about flammability. While Im sure the folk who make this tape have given some though to making the product heat resistant, Im not so sure the test scenario they used involved a hunter going cyclic because his position was being over-run by a regiment of crazed turkeys. Granted, if Im going cyclic, camouflage is the least of my concerns, but I sure as hell dont want my weapon to catch fire. In addition, long before that tape catches fire it will smoke and stink, two things I definitely dont want happening.

  • You make compelling arguments for more camouflage being used by infantry.

    I also like your post on your “cabbage patch” helmet camouflage.

    Keep up the great work!

  • KPatton

    Black is black whether percieved by the eye or out of a can of paint. I swear by my old tiger stripes because the woods is full of black shadowing and so is the desert where stark shadows abound. As a trained image interpreter, I would say that the finely printed camo patterns are worthless at breaking up the human outline at a distance. It takes larger and more contrasting patterns to do that. The meatheads in charge should take a page out of nature and go into the field with a pair of binoculars and look at things at a distance. From what I have read, the new patterns were designed by too many desk drivers and not enough trigger pullers with time in the field.

  • Bruce Lancaster

    British troops getting new camouflage foe Afghanistan:

    Is that black I see?

  • With the whole thing which seems to be building throughout this topic, all your points of view happen to be honestly exciting. Having said that, I beg your pardon, but I do not give credence to your entire suggestion, all be it stimulating none the less. It seems to me that your observations are generally not completely validated and in reality you are your self not completely confident of the point. In any case I did delight in examining it.

  • Kurt

    The Brits DPM, and wearing 2 pieces of different dominant color clothing has worked well since ww2. Big broad colors on DPM is excellent. I live in the Blue ridge mts. Wear a lighter green/OD and you blend in better in the woods and grass than multicam. Also multicam is lighter in color at dusk. An older brown style Real tree cammo top with the green pants works really well. Point is there shouldn’t be one cammo for every environment. The Brits had the same patern just different colors for woodland-desert. Good idea. The Pentagon wastes money on everything. Uniform that says shoot me. Black guns that says I’m over here, incase you didn’t see me. Military intelligence, an American tradition, evidently worth keeping.

  • Eric

    This is one place where police are slighty ahead of the military. We have our rifles painted so we blend in. There’s no regulation against that.

  • Eric

    Using the M4 rifle, I’ve camouflaged it using nothing more than Krylon paint and locally found leaves as stencils. I wish I could attach a pic. It never gummed it up or caused any issues.